Biogen cracks down on travel after 3 execs test positive for coronavirus

The novel coronavirus has hit home at Biogen, where three executives who traveled to a headquarters management meeting have tested positive for the illness.

At last week's meeting, a “number of attendees reported varying degrees of flu-like symptoms,” the company said in a statement reported in numerous publications. Some have confirmed influenza, while, so far, three joined the COVID-19 case count.

It's exactly the sort of development drugmakers are trying to avoid by restricting travel, pulling out of conferences and pushing employees who might be exposed to work from home.

"At the present time, these individuals are doing well, improving and under the care of their healthcare providers,” the Biogen statement says. One traveled to the meeting from a U.S. location outside Massachusetts, and two are from Europe.

Biogen instructed all of the meeting attendees to work from home for two weeks and restricted company travel through the end of March, the statement says. Aside from those who attended the meeting, employees should stay home if they feel sick and contact healthcare providers as necessary. 

In a FiercePharma survey of biopharma companies late last month, several drugmakers said they were restricting employee travel to and from China—the hardest-hit country—while monitoring the situation closely. GlaxoSmithKline also limited nonessential travel to South Korea and Italy. Some have since stepped up those restrictions as the case count in other countries, including the U.S., continues to climb.

RELATED: Big Pharma grounds employees: GSK, Bristol, Roche, Sanofi and more limit travel due to coronavirus

Aside from individual company operations, the outbreak also threatens conferences and other gatherings. Thursday, after several big players pulled out preemptively, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society canceled its annual conference in Orlando for the first time in more than 50 years. After recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) reports, it was “clearly necessary” to cancel the event, the group said.

Last week, several biotech companies dropped out of Cowen & Co.’s annual investor conference, including Vertex Pharmaceuticals—whose headquarters sits less than three miles away from the event venue—and Seattle Genetics. Other large medical conferences say they are monitoring the situation closely, but no other major cancellations have been reported yet. 

Meanwhile, two top cancer centers—the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and MD Anderson—are restricting employee travel as well. 

RELATED: HIMSS cancels 2020 global health conference due to coronavirus concerns 

Affected countries have implemented dramatic steps to help stop the spread. Schools are closed in Delhi, Japan and northern Italy, which has also banned large gatherings. France has nixed all events with 5,000 or more attendees. As of Thursday, WHO reported (PDF) 95,333 cases in 85 countries and 3,372 deaths.  

In the U.S., the outbreak has gained steam in recent days. As of Thursday, CDC reported 99 cases in 13 states and 10 deaths.